Photo courtesy of IMSA

IMSA: Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona after 6 hours — 18 hours remain

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Our next update will be after 9 hours (12:30 a.m. ET).

We’re one-fourth of the way through the 56th annual Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona.

After six hours, the leaders are:

PROTOTYPE:

  • No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing, Cadillac Dpi, Mike Conway
  • No. 7 Acura Team Penske, Acura Dpi, Helio Castroneves
  • No. 5 Mustang Sampling Racing, Cadillac Dpi, Christian Fittipaldi

GTLM:

  • No. 66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing, Ford GT, Sebastien Bourdais
  • No. 911 Porsche GT Team, Porsche 911-RSR, Patrick Pilet
  • No. 67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing, Ford GT, Scott Dixon

GTD:

  • No. 29 Montaplast by Land Motorsport, Audi R8 LMS GT3, Kelvin van der Linde
  • No. 33 Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsports, Mercedes-AMG GT3, Jeroen Bleekemolen
  • No. 93 Michael Shank Racing with Curb/Agajanian, Acura NSX GT3, Mario Farnbacher

There’s still another 18 hours remaining in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season-opening race at Daytona International Speedway.

Since our last report after the first two hours, a number of things have transpired. Here are some of the most notable events:

RAIN, RAIN, GO AWAY:

Rain wasn’t expected to impact the race until the overnight hours heading into Sunday’s early-morning hours.

But everyone was caught off-guard when a light rain began to fall around 7:15 p.m. ET, followed by a heavy downpour around 7:30 p.m. ET.

Several cars spun out in the rain, including the No. 48 GTD Lamborghini Huracan GT3 of Paul Miller Racing, as well as the No. 14 GTD Lexus RC F GT3 of 3GT Racing.

The weather also impacted the No. 63 GTD Ferrari 486 GT3, which suffered shifting problems as the rain. Repairs were made, but the car got back on-track 8 laps down.

Also, just about the same time, the No. 25 GTLM BMW M8 of BMW Team RLL, blew a right front tire and suffered significant suspension damage. The team took the car to the garage for repairs, but it appeared it could be a lengthy fix time.

Thankfully, the rain stopped after about 40 minutes of both light and heavy downfalls.

And the No. 25 team was able to repair its damage and brought the car back out on-track.

FUEL ISSUE BRINGS OUT FIRST FULL-FIELD CAUTION

The first full-field caution of the race came out with 21:30:37 left in the 24-hour event.

The No. 38 Oreca LMP2 appeared to have a fuel issue heading into Turn 1 on Daytona’s high banks, bringing out the yellow.

The caution lasted nearly 16 minutes until racing went back to green flag conditions with 21:14:54 remaining.

WHAT’S UP WITH DOOR LATCHES?

It’s rare when teams have door latching issues, yet two teams had issues early on.

First, Ricky Taylor had just taken over from Helio Castroneves when the door would not shut on the No. 7 Acura Team Penske prototype, prompting Taylor to take the car back to pit road for repairs.

The car dropped a lap down as a result, but Graham Rahal was able to get the car back on the lead lap during his stint behind the wheel.

Then the No. 62 GTLM Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE suffered a door latch issue that caused it to drop off the lead lap in the race’s third hour, as well.

TEQUILA PATRON STRUGGLES WITH TIRE ISSUES

Something appeared out of whack on the No. 22 Tequila Patron ESM. It suffered a punctured tire early in the race and then again in the third hour.

The second incident was worse, as the car had to limp much of the front stretch before being able to get to pit road for repairs.

The car suffered significant damage to the right rear firewall as the tire continued to fall apart, taking much of the fender with it.

The car fell three laps down as a result.

Even worse, the radiator suffered some damage, prompting team engineers to be concerned whether the car will be able to make it to the finish.

“It blew up in the kink in the middle of the track before Turn 5,” driver Pipo Derani told FS2. “Unfortunately, the tire is completely destroyed and I had to come back in.

“It’s a real pity because I’m not sure if the car is okay. The tire was hitting the radiator so we’re just hoping we can fight back.”

RICKY TAYLOR FEELING BETTER

After three days in bed with a bad case of the flu, Ricky Taylor was back and in much better health as the race kicked off.

“I think the race car is the best medicine,” Taylor told FS2. “I feel great. Helio (Castroneves) and Graham (Rahal) did all the work and let me rest for three days to get healthy.”

As for the door latch issue on the No. 7 Acura Team Penske prototype, Taylor was disappointed but took it in stride.

“It’s so awkward when everything is going good and you’re in a rhythm and then the door opens,” Taylor told FS2. “You hear all different noises coming out of the exhaust and it throws you off.

“I wish the series would have let us run because I was just getting used to it. I was pulling on it as much as I could, but unfortunately we had to pit for it. The good news is Graham (relief driver Graham Rahal) is back on the lead lap. I think we’re P8 and we’ll try to hold on to the lead lap till about 4-5 hours to go.”

NOTES:

* Scott Pruett, competing in the last race of his career and hoping to become the Rolex 24 all-time winner (he currently is tied for first with five wins), is preparing to go out in the No. 15 3GT Racing GTD in Hour No. 7. He’s expected to run three segments in the remaining part of the race.

* The lights at both Daytona International Speedway and on most of the cars came on around 5:25 p.m. ET and will likely remain on until Hour 17 of the race.

* The No. 3 Chevrolet Corvette C7.R GTLM of Corvette Racing went roughly the first three hours of the race with radio and telemetry issues.

Drivers and team engineers could not communicate with each other, leaving the drivers to run the race by their own devices.

Finally, after a pit stop near the end of the third hour, the team was able to repair the radio and telemetry issues and things were back to normal.

* Stewart Middleton got aggressive and spun Simon Pagenaud in the No. 6 Acura Team Penske prototype late in the third hour.

Middleton was forced to take a stop-and-go penalty.

NHRA: Brittany Force cleared to race this weekend in Phoenix after bad wreck 2 weeks ago

Photo: John Force Racing
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Drag racing is a Force family tradition. So, too, is not keeping a Force family member down.

Just 12 days after the most serious wreck of her six-year drag racing career, Brittany Force and John Force Racing announced late Thursday afternoon that the defending 2017 NHRA Top Fuel champion has been medically cleared and will indeed race in this weekend’s NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in suburban Phoenix, Arizona.

“I flew into Phoenix early this (Thursday) morning and headed straight out to the race track to meet up with my team,” Force said. “I suited up and got belted back into my car that I ran all last season.

“It honestly felt good to be strapped back in and I was surprised how comfortable I was. I’m looking forward to getting back in my car tomorrow (Friday’s first two rounds of qualifying) and getting back in the swing of things with my guys.”

The 31-year-old Force, one of four daughters of 16-time NHRA Funny Car champ John Force, suffered a concussion and bruising after the hard crash she was involved in on February 11 in the first round of eliminations of the season-opening NHRA Lucas Oil Winternationals in Pomona, California.

Shortly after leaving the starting line in a race vs. Terry Haddock, Force’s dragster crossed from the right to left lanes, impacted the retaining wall with a very hard lateral crash, bounced off, spun, went on its side and briefly caught fire after crossing the finish line wheels-up.

While she is still recovering from the bruising, Force feels strong enough to get back behind the wheel. Getting back in the race car could be the best medicine of all, since she has three runner-up finishes in Phoenix, including back-to-back second-place showings in both the 2016 and 2017 national events.

The three-day event kicks off Friday with qualifying rounds at 4 and 6:30 p.m. ET, the same times as Saturday’s qualifying. Final eliminations begin at 1 p.m. ET Sunday.